Posted: under Laos.
I didn’t do too much with my last few days in Laos. I went to the Attapeu, from where I would take a bus to Vietnam, a day early from Pakse. For the first 2 hours, the bus went excrutiatingly slow, never more than 40km, but more like 20km. Then we picked up a bit of speed and felt like we were on our way. Then all of a sudden, a shotgun blast rang out. At least that’s what it sounded like. The front tire exploded, the bus slowed and everybody embraced themselves but we weren’t going that fast and the driver slowed down and pulled over. The guy beside me was still in his ready-to-crash pose, bracing himself after we stopped. I told him I think we’re fine now. The tire and tube were shredded. Pieces of the tire were scattered all over the road. I kicked the bigger pieces off the road, no one else was going to do this. It took about an hour to fix the tire.
We arrived in Attapeu after over 7 hours. It should have taken about 4 hours or so. I took a room at Phoutavong guesthouse. It was a great and large room with satellite TV and almost the best value I’ve had in Laos since Luang Nam Tha, the first town I slept in. Attapeu is off most travellers radars and I could tell. There were no restaurant with english menus and almost nothing set up for the foreigner. I ended up eating noodles under the front of someone’s house. I watched movies for hours that night. It had been over a month, since I left Vientiane, that I had seen a flick and I was jonesing!
I didn’t do too much the next day. I ate spring rolls and pepsi in the market for breakfast. There’s no American breakfast here! I checked around for prices for the bus to Vietnam too. I found a place selling the same ticket for $6 less than my guesthouse. That night I looked around for a few restaurants in the guidebook but they weren’t there or the map was wrong. I didn’t like Attapeu very much.
I left Attapeu at noon. I was in a large van with 14 other Vietnamese men. It was comfortable and air conditioned. The 120km road to the border was smooth and freshly carved out of the jungle. There was hardly anything but forest the whole way. The road was really, really winding. The driver drove really fast too, making it quite a ride. We arrived at the border 2 hours later. The border was dead. Hardly any people or traffic. I had not met one sinle person who had crossed this border or was going to. I got my ‘used’ stamp on my passport and was officially out of Laos. I really enjoyed Laos, even though the wildlife situation is a little disappointing. I had been from one mellow country to the next but I think Vietnam will be different…..
Feb 02 2010
Posted: under Laos.
I had originally planned to do a 5 -7 day trek in southeastern Laos in a remote national protected area. I saw some prices for the trek and they were much more than I anticipated and I doubted if I could find anyone else to go. I couldn’t justify spending more than double my daily budget for the trek. I had left days for the trek before I found this out and now found myself in the south with extra days. That is why I spent a few days camping on the plateau and why I went today to Wat Phu. This wat or temple is the only Ankgor era temple in Laos, though the original structure dates back to the 6th century. I had seen Ankgor Wat in Cambodia and Bagan in Myanmar but with this unseen extra time I decided to see Wat Phu as well.
I rented a motorbike for the journey. Wat Phu is 46km from Pakse. I left at 11.30 in the heat of the day. For the first time on the trip, my upper thighs and arms got burnt. I wore my pants for the second half of the trip. I had to cross the Mekong river to get to Champasak town near the temple. The Mekong is very wide here and I took a boat across. Well, actually it was 2 canoes lashed together with a wooden platform on them for carrying bikes. From town it was 8km to Wat Phu. There is a 5 day festival every year in Wat Phu and although I generally don’t like festivals, the festival was going on now from January 25 to the 30th. I paid my entrance for the bike, parking for the bike and entrance fee for the temple and I was finally in. There were way too many people. The festival had become very commercial and was like a carnival with tons of vendors selling stuff and entertainment like boxing. I didn’t like the atmosphere at all. The temple was great though and I’m glad I saw it, I just wish it was at a different time. I stayed a few hours and then started heading back. The sun was setting as I pulled into Pakse. It was a strong pink color and the suns rays became definitive beams over the clouds. I had to stop to take a photo. This would be my last night in Pakse. I had to start making my way towards Vietnam. My 45 day visa would be expiring in a few days.
Jan 28 2010
Posted: under Laos.
I woke up in my tent to a glorious cloudless sky and the sun shining brilliantly. I ate breakfast at the resort and then walked to Tad Champee. This waterfall is the other main attraction I could visit within walking distance. It took me about an hour to walk there. Once I paid the small entrance fee and walked down to the waterfall I was relieved to see that there was absolutely no one there. I had the whole place to myself. The waterfalls were about 20m high and kind of had 3 cascades. Below them was a wide and deep pool perfect for swimming. Behind them was a sort of cave or overhanging ledge. I walked along this for some journey behind the falls photos. I noticed a pontoon bamboo raft floated by some large jerry cans. It had a rope running through it from the shore to the other side behind the waterfall. I knew what this was. I climbed aboard and pulled myself towards the falls. I stopped when I was right under the falls and let them massage and cool me. I swam a little and then pulled myself back to shore. A German couple had showed up now but still, there was no one else.
I walked back to Pusawan and had lunch. I looked down on the falls from the top and noticed there was hardly any mist or wind. It was a much better time to photograph the falls. I grabbed my camera and went down below to the viewpoint. I bathed in the river before dinner. Tonight’s meal was tasty bbq pork, sticky rice, chillie sauce and 3 oranges for dessert. After spending 3 days on the plateau, I have made a generalization for the weather which I think holds true. The mornings are sunny and cloudless. The clouds roll in in the early afternoon and it could rain or not. The sky stays cloudy till the middle of the night and then the whole thing happens again. At least this is the way I see it. I was glad it didn’t rain at all when I was camping.
The next morning I packed up my tent and after a huge breakfast walked to the main road. I got picked up by a bus after 10 minutes. When I got on the bus I noticed it was mostly empty and its 10 passengers were mostly teenagers trying to look cool with some weird fashions. I sat at a window seat and watched the scenery. I glanced up and could see the rear view mirror perfectly. It was then that I noticed the driver of the bus was a 15 year old kid! I know Asians look younger than they are but this kid was no more than 17 for sure. He seemed to concentrate on the road and drove at a reasonable speed. It was like him and his buddies were just out cruising in the bus. We hardly picked up any other passengers either. Anyway I got to Pakse safe and took another room at Lankham hotel.
Jan 28 2010
Posted: under Laos.
The morning after my birthday we ate the included with the room breakfast. After that Matt and I joined a French couple for a hike around the area. We left at 8.30 and descended a steep trail through forest to the top of the waterfalls. It was cool being up here but not as spectacular as I imagined. I couldn’t get too close to the edge of the falls to see the bottom or take a good photo. We hiked back up and through coffee and tea plantations to Tad Yuang waterfalls. These falls are almost a twin cascade as well and fall 40m. They are more accessible and you can swim at the top or bottom. The mist from the falls was spread everywhere by the wind, making photography at that moment difficult. We went along the top of the falls to a new resort called Pusawan. We stopped here for coffee and it was then that I noticed the resorts sign. Among the things it offered was ‘tent’. I asked the owner and he said they rented tents or I could pitch my own anywhere I wanted for $3. That was enough for me.
We hiked for an hour back to Tad Fane. Matt left for Pakse and I walked 3km along the road back to Pusawan. I set up my tent in a sort of private out of the way place upstream and beside a set up small rapids that drowned out any sounds. The Thai owner of the the resort was still building. He started building the place by himself 2 years ago. He wasn’t officially open yet. He had more work to do and planned on a grand opening in the next 2 months but he was glad to have me stay. There was some noise from a table saw and generator but I couldn’t hear anything at my tent. I also noticed that during my time there the table saws stopped completely and he did less noisy work. Tad Yuang is a popular waterfall and has a small market in the car park. I ate a simple lunch here. I bathed in the river and read before dinner.
I was the only person staying at Pusawan. I ate dinner alone. The food was bbq chicken, sticky rice and chilly sauce. It was all very good and cheap. Tea and water were free. They really treated me nice here. The sky was unfortunately very dark and had been teasing with false threats of rain all day. The generator went off at 8 and it was dark and quiet.
Jan 27 2010
Posted: under Laos.
It was my birthday and I wanted to be somewhere quiet. Pakse was not that place. The nearest option was Tad Fane resort,a slightly more expensive lodge perched beside the Tad Fan waterfalls on the Bolaven plateau. This area is about 1000m high and due to abundant rainfall, altitude and rich volcanic soil,is the coffee growing area of Laos. Many waterfalls are found on the plateau. Tad Fane resort is only one hour from Pakse and is the only thing around it. No town or village nearby. This sounded like my place. Even though it was more expensive, I was going to treat myself for my birthday. It was great news when Matt said he also wanted to go there. We would get a room with 2 beds and split the $30. It was no longer over my budget. Matt had some things to do in town, so he would meet me there. I arrived at the resort, which is 1km from the main road at 11am. The room was in a nice bungalow in a lushly forested and landscaped ground. I thought for the price the room would have been larger but I guess it’s more about the atmosphere here.
I walked to a viewpoint to get a look at the waterfalls. The Tad fan waterfalls are actually a twin waterfall plunging 120m into dense forest around a steep cliff. There was a path leading down to a better viewpoint with the sign ‘danerous’ in front of it. I took this way! I went as far as I could and I could finally see the bottom of the falls. There was no way down further than here though. It was just too steep. As I was down here taking pictures, it started to rain so I quickly made my way back up the path. The sun came out later and the day was getting on. It was almost 4.30 and I thought Matt wasn’t going to show and then he did. He had to wait for the bus from Pakse.
The resort had a great elevated dining area that had an obscured view of the falls. There is only 14 rooms here but I don’t think they were full. There were about 15 other people in the dining room, mostly older French and German folks. I ate a tasty but different Thai green curry loaded with eggplant and swimming in oil. Matt and I chilled on our veranduh. It was a great place to spend my birthday. I always try to do something special for Christmas and my birthday. I can remember where I was for every single Christmas and birthday for almost the last decade. The sound of the falls lulled me into a restful sleep.
Jan 27 2010
Posted: under Laos.
I came to Pakse mainly to do a trek to Xe Pian National Protected Area. This is supposed to be one of the most important protected areas in Laos because it is remote and hardly anyone lives there. I went to the tourist office to see if they had any treks going but they didn’t. I checked Xplore Asia, a tour company near my hotel and they had a trek leaving the next day with 3 people. This sounded good.
While I was still in town I wanted to check out the big market 2km away. I rented a bicycle to ride there. While I was on my way I ran into Rohan, the New Zealander I did the Phou Hin Boun trek with days ago. He was looking for a hotel. He took a room at my hotel, Lankham and rented a bike and we rode to the market. He was also looking to trek to Xe Pian and when we came back from the market, we both signed up for the trek.
We had to be at the Xplore Asia office at 7am. I got up at 6.30 and Rohan and I ate at the Indian restaurant across the street. We left at 7.15 with our female guide, Son. It was an hour and a half drive to Kingfisher Resort where we picked up our other 3 trekkers. They were Russian couple Vlad and Nelly and Frenchman Matt. From here we had another hour and a half drive along a very bad road to the village of Pha Pho. We got our stuff together here, picked up our local guide and began trekking. We trekked through very nice and tall forest. Much nicer and more diverse than the forests of Phou Hin Boun. It felt great to be in the proper forest again. My guidebook says that this 2 day trek is the toughest they have done in Laos but I didn’t think so. The ‘barely visible trails’ were clearly visible to me and the streams that we were supposedly to cross numerous times, were all dried up. There was no water the first day anywhere and I thought it was quite an easy and enjoyable trek. We left the forest for a small road like track that led to the village. We stopped here for a rest. It was here that my right knee and a few fingers started burning and were intensely itchy and uncomfortable. I had shorts on, which was my mistake. I must have brushed up against some nasty plant. Thankfully it didn’t last too long but the itch came back as I poured water on it during my bucket shower. It was also at this point during our rest that I noticed some dried blood on my hand. I wasn’t feeling any pain anywhere and couldn’t figure out where it came from. Son noticed a little later that there was a bloody clot on my left ankle, just above my sock. It seems like I was the victim of my first leech in Laos! The forest was really dry and I didn’t expect any leeches. No one else encountered any. Must have been a determined rogue. It was no big deal though. I washed off the blood later. It became slightly itchy 2 days later.
We walked this road for 1km and reached the very poor village of Ta Ong. We would be spending the night here in an eco-lodge located at the far end of the village. I liked the location of the lodge. It wasn’t in the middle of the village so we didn’t have people constantly staring at us or weren’t completely overwhelmed by the noisy village. We relaxed here until dinner was ready in the village. The food was varied and delicious, much much better than the food on my last 2 treks. Of course, laolao was passed around after the meal. It wasn’t as strong as some of the laolao I’ve had but still, 2 shots was enough for me. Matt and I hung out on the porch. The stars were good but the atmosphere was ruined by several places in the village. Even though they don’t have electricity, they run a few generators. A few places were playing loud music over top of each other and another place had the volume on their video game turned up full blast. It could have been such a peaceful night. This racket continued till almost midnight.
The next day we got up at 6.30 and went for a hike in the forest. We were supposed to see some birds feeding but the tree had apparently finished fruiting. We heard a bit of commotion in the trees but saw nothing. We walked back to the village and went for breakfast. It rained during the night and the morning sky looked ominous. While we ate breakfast it started to rain. At the last minute while packing for this trip I decided to take my raincoat and I’m glad I did. I put the raincover on my pack and we all had to start hiking in the rain. It was really wet without cover but became less so once we entered the forest again. We walked about an hour and a half in the rain. It stopped just before we climbed up to a magnificent viewpoint. The rain left behind clouds of mist over the forest below us. It looked really cool as some of them climbed towards us and right past us. From here we walked another hour to a waiting boat. The sun came out and my pants dried as we rode the river. It was an enjoyable boat ride. There were 2 boats, well really just motorized canoes, 3 of us to each canoe. Our canoe was having problems. Turns out we ran out of gas! The oldest trick in the book! We had to hang on to the other canoe for a tow for the next 30 minutes. We came back to the village were we had started the trek and had lunch. Then it was the bumpy ride back to the smooth road and finally back to Pakse. Matt and I both took a room at Lankham. Rohan went to another hotel but we met up for dinner later. Rohan was leaving for the 4000 islands area south of here. Matt and I were heading to Tad Fan waterfalls.
Jan 23 2010
Posted: under Laos.
Before I went to sleep last night, Lucky asked me to set my alarm. When I asked him what time he said ’4:99′. I said ‘ I don’t know what time that is?!. He said ’4:99′ again but then he finally said ’5′. The next morning I woke up at 5am and woke the guys up. We had some coffee and sweet bread and then started hiking. We hiked an easy trail for a short distance and then began to climb up the karst. We climbed up the karst until we reached the gigantic opening of the bat cave. It was after 6 at this point. We were suppose to see the bats coming back into the cave but I think they were already in. We didn’t see them come in. We hiked right through the massive cave and up the other side. It was a like a huge hole in the mountain. As we hiked back to the entrance the suns rays were shining in and made some great photos. We stood on a high rocky hill at the entrance to the caves. There were thousands of swiftlets flying around our heads. The sound of their wings cutting the air was loud as they flew by my head.
We walked back to the camp and had breakfast. After that we went on a mostly trailless walk to look for animals but saw nothing. I only saw signs of deer or wild pig in the cave to drink from water coming out of the cave ceiling. We rested till 3 and then went to swim. At the base of the mountain is where the river disappears into a cave. The water wasn’t flowing but it was deeper and better for swimming. Again at dusk, I didn’t see the bats come out of the cave. The swiftlets flying around the mouth of the cave though. The birds were more impressive than the bats!
The next morning the guys let me sleep in, though I couldn’t sleep through their talking and singing and was up at 7am. We had a leisurely morning. I packed up my tent and we started the long walk out at 9. It was really hot and sunny. We reached the huge hill at 12. We climbed that and we back at the blue lagoon. My clothes were already soaked and I didn’t feel like swimming. I ate a decent, well, different meal in the village before we left. Most of the food on the trek was sticky rice, spicy sauce, instant noodles, salty grilled fish, sardines, sweet bread and a bit of pork on the first day. The omelette for lunch with veggies was a much welcome change.
The scary bits of road on the way back didn’t seem as scary the second time around. Lucky did a good job of driving and I felt more confidence in him. Before I knew it I was back in my room at Mouthang guesthouse. I liked the trek but was a little disappointed in the food and the fact that I hardly saw any bats on the ‘bat cave’ trek.
The next day I took a bus south for 350km to Pakse. I am here now and will be doing a 2 day trek to Xe Pian NPA tomorrow.
Jan 21 2010
Posted: under Laos.
I asked at the tourist office if they had any other treks where I could camp. I have been carrying my tent this whole time and haven’t used it yet. They told me there was a new trek. They just started offering it from November last year. They’ve only had 4 groups do it so far. The trek involved a lot of walking to a remote bat cave where it was possible to camp. This sounded exactly like what I was looking for. I couldn’t convince Rohan or Mike to join me, so I went solo. It was a bit more expensive but I didn’t care. I really wanted to use my tent and have been living most days under budget.
I went to the tourist office at 8am and met my guide, Lucky. We drove on his motorbike to the market and bought most of the food we would be eating in the next 3 days. There were no villages where we were going. Then we drove with all our food and gear on his motorbike to the village near the blue lagoon, where we finished our last trek. Lucky is a skilled motorbike driver and negotiated the steep and rocky parts with me on the back. I was a little scared at some times but he kept it together.
We reached the village near the blue lagoon and picked up our 2 local guides. From there we walked to the blue lagoon to have lunch. After that we had a 15km trek to the camp. The only way in and out. The trail started off level but then climbed steeply and then descended a huge hill just a steep and very rocky. This could not be done on a motorbike, maybe a professional dirtbiker could conquer it. After the huge hill though, the trail levelled out and stayed flat until we reached camp 3 hours later. The trail was through very dry forest.
The camp consisted of an open air one room bungalow on stilts and a outhouse. I set up my tent beside the hut. The camp was at the end of a flat and narrow penisula shaped piece of land surround on 3 sides by karst mountains. It was a great location. I wanted to clean myself up after the long and sweaty hike but was a little disappointed at the ‘stream’. It was more like a pond than a stream. The water had dried up downstream and the river was no longer flowing. It was shallow and there were plants growing all in it. I managed to get a bucket and get though.
I was hoping to see the bats come out of the cave at dusk but they never did. After it got dark I could hear them but not see them. This was a little disappointing. The stars were amazing though and I saw a spectacular shooting star before I went to bed.
Jan 21 2010
Posted: under Laos.
The great wall is a sandstone dike about 2m wide and 15m high stretching over 15km. The most intact part is 8km from Tha Kek. I signed myself up for a 3 day trek but I had a day before it started and decided to visit this not-in-the-guidebook attraction. I rounded up Rohan and Mike, an American I met, to rent bicycles and visit the wall. It was late afternoon when we finally all got bikes and left town. It was mercifully a little cooler and overcast. The great wall was located on the road north to Vientiane. All along the road before we reached the best section we could see remnants of the wall. We reached the best bit and found a way to the top of the way. No one knows if the wall is natural or was man made. Mike is a geologist and his theory is that it is a natural sandstone dike pushed up from the depths of the earth but he was blown away to learn that is was 15km long. It looks somewhat man made with the slabs of sandstone being vertically cut in roughly equal sections except that there were hardly any vertical cuts. It would be impossible for these huge and long slabs to be man made and I think it’s just a natural wonder like I’ve seen nowhere else. We took pics from the top and then went around the other side to get photos from the base of the wall.
We rode back to town and I washed clothes and packed my things to get ready for my 3 day trek.
Jan 21 2010
Posted: under Laos.
I joined a 2 day trek into the national protected area of Phou Hin Boun offered by the tourist office. I went to the office at 8am and met my trekking companions. They were Marcus and Christina from Germany and Rohan from New Zealand. We left Tha Kek by tuk tuk. We drove 5km out of town on a paved road and then branched off onto a dirt road for another 20km. We arrived at a small village were we got 2 local village guides. We stopped at the local primary school for a bit and then started our trek. We reached a small cave that had 4 entrances. This cave was full of daddy long leg spiders in huge numbers all over the ceiling. As the light from our flashlights hit them, they dropped to the floor. We had to watch out not to get covered in them!
Next we come to the Nam Don Resurgence. This beautiful spot has light greenish clear water and is the source of the nam don river. The river comes out of the ground at the back of the cave that is only 20m deep. Rohan and I swam in the water. It was very clear with lots of little fish. We had lunch at this spot, which consisted of local food and tasty grilled fish. After hiking through more dry forest we reach the massive Pa Chan cave. This cave is only about 200m long but is about 60m high with a 100m entrance. We walked right through the via secret passage thus avoiding the river running through the cave. This cave was used to hide sacred buddhas during raids on the local villagers a long time ago. The cave is the site of a huge 3 day festival in February. It was really spectacular and there was no one else around. We walked past a stupa dating from the 6th century on our way to a village were we spent the night. We stayed in an eco lodge, basically one large room with mats and mosquito nets. We ate on the large balcony. After dinner we were treated to a Baci ceremony were elder local villages tied white thread bracelots around our wrists and gave us gifts of sticky rice, banana and candy. They wished us and our families good health and a safe trip as they tied the bracelots on. Shots of the local fire water, laolao, were optional. I took 2 shots and that was enough. The night sky was brilliantly full of stars.
The next morning breakfast at 8am consisted of noodles and coffee. We packed up and hiked along a mostly easy trail for 3 and a half hours. The trek was in forest along the base of a karst mountain. We came to Ban Na Kheu village were we would have lunch. The village is also the base for visiting the stunning Khoun Kong lake, also known as the Blue Lagoon. There’s more than one blue lagoon in Laos but this one was different and the most spectacular. The name means ‘Evening Gong Lake’. We rode on the back of a tractor pulled cart for 1km to reach the lake. At different times of the year, the lake changes color from blue to green to brown. The dry season is the best with the richest blue color. The water comes from an underground spring 70m deep. The limestone filters the water giving it the crystal clear and surreal blue color. Words don’t do it justice. This place is magical.Fishing is prohibited in the lake and swimming is only allowed in one corner. The lake is about 100m from end to end. I thought it would be bigger. It’s totally surround by trees with karst mountains looming in the distance. We saw some fish about 45cm long but there were many more smaller and streamlined fish almost the same color as the water. We swam and hung out here for a while. We went back to the village for lunch of local food, the main dish being freshly killed duck which they made into soup. The cuts of meat were very bony and fatty and the meat itself was not tender or particularly tasty, I didn’t like it much and loaded up on sticky rice. Sticky rice is a staple in Laos and it’s been a staple for me. I’ve been eating it most days, sometimes twice a day. It’s so tasty dipping it into a spicy fish paste and super cheap on the street, 25 cents will get a huge clump of sticky rice that is more than enough for one person. I am going to have to learn how to make sticky rice once I get home.
After lunch we ride in the back of the tractor pulled cart for almost an hour. It’s not quite a tractor that pulls the cart but a oversized rototiller type machine without blades and handles that extend 2m. I saw them all over Myanmar and Laos, usually used to haul heavy local loads of produce or local people. The road became very rough at this point and we had to get off and walk for 2km. The tractor went back to the village as after the road became more passable, a tuk tuk was waiting for us on the other side. The road was very rocky and went up and down some huge hills. I wondered how any vehicle could get across this stretch. We met out tuk tuk and we back in town after another hour. I went back to Mouthang guesthouse. I raved about it to everyone and they all came with me to get a room. Unfortunately they only had one room left and I took it. I ate dinner at the local food stalls along the Mekong. Tha Kek is one of the cheapest places to get food. A large and meaty skewer of pork and a huge clump of sticky rice with sauce is less than one dollar. Beerlao, the local brew, is also the cheapest I’ve seen anywhere, just under one dollar. It’s usually about $1.20 for a 650ml bottle.
Jan 21 2010